Conceiving of Conscious States

In J. Ellis & D. Guevara (eds.), Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press (2012)
For a wide range of concepts, a thinker’s understanding of what it is for a thing to fall under the concept plausibly involves knowledge of an identity. It involves knowledge that the thing has to have the same property as is exemplified in instantiation of the concept in some distinguished, basic instance. This paper addresses the question: can we apply this general model of the role of identity in understanding to the case of subjective, conscious states? In particular, can we explain our understanding of what it is for someone else to be in a particular conscious state in terms of our knowledge of the relation of identity which that state bears to some of our own states?[1] This is a large issue, with many ramifications both within and beyond the philosophy of mind; so let me give a map for the route I aim to take. We first need to consider the features of explanations of concepts in terms of identity in domains outside the mental. There are substantial constraints on legitimate explanation of concepts in terms of identity. There are also reasons that it is harder to meet these constraints in the case of concepts of conscious states than it is in other cases. I will go on to suggest a way in which we can overcome the special difficulties of the conscious case, and to try to elaborate the nature both of our understanding of first person applications of concepts of conscious states, and of our grasp of an identity relation applied to these states. A positive account of understanding in this area, as in any other, has to dovetail with a credible epistemology of conscious states in oneself and in others. I will offer something under that head, and say how the resulting position steers a middle way distinct from each of the two classic rival positions on conscious states of the later Wittgenstein on the one hand, and of Frege on the other
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